July 1st has not been kind to the Islanders in recent years. First, Tavares leaves on July 1st, 2018 for the Leafs then Artemi Panarin the “Breadman” chooses the Rangers over the Islanders on July 1st last year. Panarin could have had many reasons for picking the Rangers over the other teams that pursued him mainly the Blue Jackets, Islanders and Panthers. He stated through his Russian translator that his heart has been with the Rangers. What did he mean by this?
Choosing where you will play for the next seven years is a massive decision especially when you are 27 like Panarin was at the time. There are so many factors that go into this decision such as the coach, the location, your teammates, and of course the money. We tend to oversimplify big decisions like this by saying things like: “He sold out for the money.” However, we can clearly see in this case that is not true because both the Islanders and the Blue Jackets offered him more money.
Play to Win the Game
So did Panarin sign with the Rangers to win? The Rangers finished 20 points behind Panarin’s Blue Jackets right before that off-season so that might seem to disprove that theory. However, we have seen this year that the Rangers really do have good young talent. Once Igor Shesterkin took over in goal this year they really seemed to turn things around and were one of the hottest teams in the league when the season was suspended.
Did Panarin See into the Future?
Maybe a little bit. The Rangers had just picked Kaapo Kakko 2nd overall before Panarin signed. Kakko showed up shy of expectations this year with only 23 points in 66 games played, but is still very talented and only 19. The Rangers had also just signed Igor Shesterkin and their 2018 1st round pick, Vitali Kravtsov. They also had talent on their roster already in the likes of Mika Zibanejad, Tony DeAngelo, Chris Kreider, and Jacob Trouba who they had just acquired on June 17th. New York is a huge market compared to the likes of Columbus and Florida. The Rangers made it clear before he signed that they will willing to spend accordingly.
No question about it David Quinn has a more agreeable personality than John Tortorella. Whether he is a better coach is a much different question. One might think that Panarin wanted to leave Columbus because of Torts’s hard-nosed, blunt personality. While this is a very valid point, I think there was one reason that went beyond Torts, the money, winning, and even the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.
Panarin was born and raised in Korkino, Russia a remote region of Russia close to Kazakhstan. Panarin was born in 1991 and grew up right after the Cold War ended. Just an educated guess here, but I think the majority of this very small Russian mining town did not speak any English. The fact that he is not 100% comfortable speaking English and still uses a translator is not surprising in the least.
English is one of the hardest languages to learn especially if you do not start at an early age. Also, Russia uses a different alphabet so that makes it even harder. Panarin was 22 when he moved to Chicago in 2015. He definitely has picked up some English and seems to understand it based on his dealings with the press. Obviously he still struggles a bit because he still uses a translator which is very understandable.
New York is a great city to attract Russian speaking players because it has the biggest Russian population in North America. An estimated 1.6 million Russians live in the Tri-state area and 600,000 live in New York City. This being said he could still go to the New York Islanders who offered him more money. However, the Rangers had a lot more Russian players than the Islanders at the time.
They had drafted Vitali Kravtsov 9th overall in 2018, signed Igor Shesterkin that May, acquired Yegor Rykov from the Devils in the Michael Grabner trade, and already had Pavel Buchnevich and Alexandar Georgiev. Having a cultural connection and no language barrier with a lot of your future teammates is massive. Imagine you were moving to Russia where less than 10% of the population speaks English. You would want to link up with other English speakers immediately as well. For me, this had to be a huge reason why the Breadman chose the Rangers over the Islanders.
Yes, Manhattan is what everyone dreams about when they think of New York, not Elmont or Uniondale, but I think he was highly influenced by the Rangers’ young Russian contingent. I think Panarin saw a lot of potential long-term Russian friends with the Rangers and not just Leo Komarov who could be out the door at any moment.
Sharing the same language and coming from the same cultural background is extremely important when making friends and adjusting to a big move. I think fans and reporters alike tend to overlook the human aspect of a players’ decisions a lot of the time. In the end, I think Panarin considered every point I brought up and decided a small pay cut would be worth it to play with young Russian teammates/future stars in the city that never sleeps.
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